Feeling togetherness online: a phenomenological sketch of online communal experiences

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The internet provides us with a multitude of ways of interacting with one another. In discussions about how technological innovations impact and shape our interpersonal interactions, there is a tendency to assume that encountering people online is essentially different to encountering people offline. Yet, individuals report feeling a sense of togetherness with one another online that echoes offline descriptions. I consider how we can understand people’s experiences of being together with others online, at least in certain instances, as arising out of their feeling together as a we. Using Walther’s phenomenological framework of communality, I explore whether the following might take place online: habitual communal experiences and actual we-experiences. While neither of these sketches amount to a full account of how we find ourselves with others online, I suggest that they reveal how insights from the phenomenology of sociality can be used to deepen our understanding of online communality. What is more, I suggest that the strength of this approach is that in some cases it allows us to circumvent tricky questions about embodiment online and, in others, prompts us to ask to what extent a fully-embodied interaction is really required for we-experiences.
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Archival date: 2020-07-22
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